Introduction to Criminology
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Introduction to Criminology CRJ 270 Instructor: Jorge Pierrott. 5. Biosocial and Other Contemporary Perspectives. Chapter Objectives. After reading this chapter, students should be able to answer the following questions:

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Introduction to Criminology CRJ 270 Instructor: Jorge Pierrott

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Introduction to Criminology

CRJ 270

Instructor: Jorge Pierrott


Biosocial and Other Contemporary Perspectives

Chapter Objectives

After reading this chapter, students should be able to answer the following questions:

  • What was the purpose of the Human Genome Project (HGP), and what is its significance for modern biological theories of crime?

  • What role do genetics and heritability play in contemporary explanations for crime?

  • How does brain dysfunction relate to criminality?

  • How do body chemistry theories – including those involving diet, blood sugar levels, environmental contaminants, and hormones – explain crime?

  • What are biosocial theories, and what role does the gender ratio problem play in contemporary criminology?

  • What are the policy implications of modern biological theories of crime?

The Human Genome Project

  • Testing of Connecticut school shooter Adam Lanza’s DNA to determine if he possessed any abnormalities.

  • The human genome refers to a complete copy of the entire set of human gene instructions.

    • Genes are made of DNA and carry coded instructions for making everything the body needs.

    • Chromosomes are bundles of genes.

continued on next slide

The Human Genome Project

  • International research project mapping the human genome.

    • Determine complete chemical sequence of the human DNA

  • HGP sequenced entire genomic sequence of a reference human genome

  • Current focus of genomics

    • Finding variants from reference sequence

The Human Genome Project

  • Knowledge developed by HGP may have major implications for individuals and society.

  • Genetic knowledge can have significant implications for criminal justice

    • What can we discover from the HGP research?

    • What is it expected to accomplish?

      • Support the development of public policy options related to crime prevention and offender treatment.

Genetics and Heritability

  • Dutch research found male descendants of a “criminal family” had high proportion of violent crime arrests.

    • Researchers H. Hilger Ropers and Han Brunner suggest that because males have only one X chromosome, they are more vulnerable to any defective gene, while women (with two X chromosomes) have a sort of backup system.

continued on next slide

Genetics and Heritability

  • Monoamine oxidase A (MAOA):

    • Enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters serotonin and noradrenaline.

    • Neurotransmitters are the chemicals that transmit the flow of electrical impulses.

      • Men with mutated genes do not produce enough of this enzyme.

    • Excess amounts of MAOA linked to aggression.

      • Resulting in uncontrolled urges and ultimately, criminal behavior

Genetics and Heritability

University of Texas Health Science Center (S.A)

  • Pleasure-seeking gene (Allele or DRD2 A1) may play a role in deviant behavior, addictions, violence.

    • The gene is normally involved in controlling dopamine flow

    • What does it do?

      • Diminishes dopamine function.

      • May lead to people engaging in dopamine-like experiences, such as drinking or using drugs. Or in some cases to violence and/or murder.

Genetics and Heritability

Researchers – Capsi and Moffitt

  • Heritability linked to callous-unemotional behavior.

    • Can childhood maltreatment lead to a risk factor in adulthood?

  • Genes and environment work together to produce significant antisocial behavior.

    • What was discovered?

      • In some cases, genetic pre-dispositions and their interaction with the surrounding social and physical environments combine to produce delinquency.

Future Directions in the Study of Genes and Crime

  • Explanatory power of heritability limited – may apply only to environments existing at the time of a given study

  • If population or environment changes, heritability may change also

  • Genes appear to be both the cause and consequence of our actions – they enable rather than determine human action.

The Dysfunctional Brain

  • Position emission tomography (PET) scans found lower glucose levels in prefrontal cortex of murderers

  • Prefrontal cortex dysfunction may predispose someone to crime rather than being a direct cause of crime

  • Frontal brain hypothesis.

    • A gene defect that leads to a communications breakdown in the brain predisposes people to schizophrenia.

continued on next slide

Figure 5-1 The Human Brain Showing the Prefrontal Cortex and the AmygdalaSource: Schmalleger, Frank J., Criminology. Printed and Electronically reproduced by permission of Pearson Education, Inc., Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.

The Dysfunctional Brain

  • Allergic reactions to foods have been linked to violence and homicide.

    • Foods such as milk, citrus fruit, chocolate, corn, wheat and eggs may lead to swelling of the brain and stem.

  • Physical injuries, emotional trauma, disease, longer term exposure to stress can lead to changes in the brain

  • Link between stressors in the social environment and brain structure

continued on next slide

The Dysfunctional Brain

  • Neuroplasticity

    • Brain can alter its structure or function in response to experience or injury

Body Chemistry and Criminality

  • Body chemistry is influenced by factors such as eating habits, vitamin deficiencies, environmental contaminants, and the endocrine system

  • You really ARE what you eat!

Ingested Substances and Nutrition

  • Early research linked excess sugar consumption to crime but the current evidence on the sugar/behavior link is unclear.

  • Dan White – “Twinkie Defense”

    • He murdered San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and city Councilman Harvey Milk.

  • This was contradicted in 1994 by the New England Journal of Medicine.

continued on next slide

Ingested Substances and Nutrition

  • Some food additives (MSG, dyes, artificial flavorings) may be linked to violence

  • Coffee and sugar may trigger antisocial behavior

  • Vitamins, other nutrients may have behavioral impact.

  • Higher intake of omega 3 fatty acids lead to a reduction of hostility.

Environmental Pollution

  • Several studies have found a link between industrial and environmental pollution and violent behavior

  • Correlation between juvenile crime and exposure to lead and manganese

  • Prenatal substance exposure may lead to higher rates of conduct disorders, delinquency, psychiatric problems

Hormones and Criminality

  • Testosterone

    • Relationship between high blood levels of testosterone and increased male aggressiveness

    • Effect may be moderated by social environment

    • Small changes in female testosterone levels also linked to personality changes

continued on next slide

Hormones and Criminality

  • Androgens – male hormones

    • High blood levels linked to aggression in boys but not girls.

    • A study revealed that boys with a higher level of androgens in their blood exhibited the most persistent aggression.

  • Fluctuations in female hormones may also be linked to crime.

    • PMS defense – Christine English was exonerated in a British court with this defense.

continued on next slide

Hormones and Criminality

  • Serotonin – behavior-regulating chemical

    • Elevated blood levels/lower brain levels linked to violence in men

    • Imbalance between levels of serotonin and dopamine highly associated with psychopathic traits

continued on next slide

Hormones and Criminality

  • Other hormones implicated in delinquency and poor impulse control include cortisol and T3 (thyroid hormone)

Climate, Weather, and Crime

  • Temperature is the only weather variable consistently related to crime.

  • Researchers Ellen Cohn and James Rotton have found temperature to be related to crimes such as assault, property offenses, domestic violence, and disorderly conduct.

  • Relationship moderated by temporal factors. (Temp, time of day, day of week)

    • Uncomfortably hot and cold temperatures keep people apart.

  • Research findings consistent with routine activities theory

continued on next slide

Climate, Weather, and Crime

  • Possible link between barometric pressure and violent crime

  • Historical correlation between high temperatures, extreme rainfall patterns, and violence

Figure 5-2 Assault as a Function of TemperatureSource: E . G. Cohn and J. Rotton, “Assault as a Function of Time and Temperature: A Moderator-Variable Time-Series Analysis,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 72 (1997), pp. 1322–1334. Data used with permission.

Biosocial Criminology

  • Crime and Human Nature (1985)

    • Comprehensive theory of crime that included constitutional factors

    • Constitutional factors which contribute to crime. They include:

      • Gender

      • Age

      • Body type

      • Intelligence and

      • Personality

continued on next slide

Biosocial Criminology

  • Biosocial criminology – Anthony Walsh

    • Biological factors do not operate in an environmental vacuum, environmental factors do not operate in a biological vacuum.

    • Interaction of biology and the social and environmental conditions.

Figure 5-3 Selected Biological Factors Recognized by Biosocial Theory

Gender Differences in Criminality

  • Gender ratio problem

    • need for an explanation of the fact that men are more involved in crime than women

  • Early explanations focused on culture and the social environment – lack contemporary validation.

  • Females make up 51% of the population in the U.S., but are arrested for less than 20% of all violent crimes and almost 38% of property crimes.

continued on next slide

Gender Differences in Criminality

  • Biosocial criminologists say that if we admit that there is something about gender itself that is responsible for the observed differences, the problem is resolved.

    • Does culture play a role in criminality?

    • Culture has changed, has the proportion of crime committed by women risen?

Evolutionary Theory

  • Evolutionary perspective suggests that behavioral traits are manifestations of multiple genes working independently and synergistically in response to the environment.

continued on next slide

Evolutionary Theory

  • Evolutionary neuroandrogenic theory

    • Propensity for crime commission evolved as part of the male reproductive strategy

    • A particular neurochemistry, characteristic of males, increases the probability of crime among males relative to females

Policy Implications of Biological Theories

  • Steven Pinker claims social scientists unjustly ignore the biological basis of human behavior and replace it with three myths:

    • The blank slate

    • The Noble Savage

    • The Ghost in the Machine

continued on next slide

Policy Implications of Biological Theories

  • No genes for criminal behavior but genes may affect brain functioning and influence chances of learning socially unacceptable behavior patterns

Critique of Biological and Biosocial Theories

  • Fail to predict criminality accurately

  • Methodological problems

    • Studies in the area have often been based on small, non-representative samples.

  • Findings difficult to generalize

  • Do not explain regional, temporal variations in crime rates

continued on next slide

Critique of Biological and Biosocial Theories

  • Cannot explain why some crimes are more likely to occur in certain parts of the country, certain types of communities, among members of specific subcultures rather than in others

  • Some biosocial criminologists have been accused of racial and class bias

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